Wednesday, April 18, 2007

'Smart dust' to explore planets

BBCNews reports that 'Smart dust' to explore planets in which small sensor particles could use wireless networking to form swarms:

Smart dust could be packed into the nose cones of planetary probes and then released into the atmospheres of planets, where they would be carried on the wind. For a planet like Mars, smart dust particles would each have to be the size of a grain of sand.

By applying a voltage to alter the shape of the polymer sheath surrounding the chip, dust particle could be steered towards a target, even in high winds. The polymer sheath surrounding the computer chip could be made to wrinkle or flatten out.

Wrinkling the plastic sheath would increase the drag on the particle, lifting it higher on the wind. Flattening out the sheath would cause the particle to plummet. Wireless networking would allow these particles to form swarms, and Dr Barker's team has carried out mathematical simulations to see how this would work. "We envisage that most of the particles can only talk to their nearest neighbours but a few can communicate at much longer distances.

Will these 'swarms of the future' be precursors to solar colonisation?


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